The Handmaid’s Tale has long been a standard work of classic, feminist literature. The Hulu adaptation of the book made many changes to the original text and story. Some of these changes were more effective than others. Books and television are two very different mediums, so adjustments always have to be made. Some of these changes were for the best, while some... not so much.
Here is a list of 5 of the things the show did better than the books and five of the things it did worse.
10 BETTER: THE STORY DOESN’T END ON A CLIFFHANGER
In 'The Handmaid's Tale' book, readers are left with a very ambiguous ending. Offred is taken away by the Eyes after Nick tells her that he can trust them. The book never makes it clear what exactly happens to Offred and never even reveals if Nick is a supporter or enemy of Gilead. In the show, however, we don’t get this ambiguous ending. The show goes beyond the events of the book, and we know that Nick is a good character. While we don’t know the official fate of Offred in the series as it’s not over yet, we aren’t left on a cliffhanger.
9 WORSE: THE STORY DOESN’T END ON A CLIFFHANGER
While in one sense the cliffhanger is an obnoxious choice for some readers, in another it’s quite effective. The ambiguous ending adds to the frightening nature of the book and the society of Gilead. While the epilogue of the book does shed light and reveal that Gilead is eventually destroyed, we don’t get all of the answers handed to us. This makes the book more frightening, in a way, as the unknown is often scarier than the actual facts. The show is still ongoing, so we don't know how it will end.
8 BETTER: THE STORY IS UPDATED TO REFLECT CURRENT EVENTS
'The Handmaid’s Tale' was published in 1985 so the references and events talked about in the book are definitely a bit outdated now. While references to the second wave of feminism would have been very prevalent in the minds of readers at the time, they aren’t as important to current readers. The show makes the tale more current by including modern technology and references to current events such as recent protests and political issues like a resurgence of right-wing groups. This makes the show more relatable to the current audience.
RELATED: The Handmaid’s Tale Character Guide
7 WORSE: OFFRED CHOOSES TO STAY IN GILEAD AT THE END OF SEASON 2
Season two of Hulu’s Handmaid’s Tale is full of new scenes and storylines that never occurred in the books at all. The show is on its own now as far as creating the story as it has gone beyond the book. When June chooses to send her baby with Emily and then return to Gilead to fight back from behind enemy lines, many viewers were left asking why. Many viewers felt this didn’t make sense and was just a way to drag out the drama of the series and have more seasons. Sometimes having a clear end in sight is better than continually creating new seasons.
6 BETTER: OFFRED IS GIVEN A NAME AND MORE OF AN IDENTITY
In the book, we never actually learn Offred’s real name. This is an effective storytelling device in the book, but it’s also rather frustrating. Offred functions more as a stand-in for all the trauma that women in Gilead endure and doesn’t have much of an identity in Atwood’s adaptation. By giving June her name and more of a personality, she is able to be a stronger and more relatable character that viewers want to root for.
5 WORSE: THERE IS MORE MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE IN THE BOOKS
There is definitely no shortage of suspense and terror in the television series, but the written medium of a book allows for a lot more ambiguity. Many things are not spelled out in the book and not a lot of details are given. The readers are just as in the dark as Offred is which makes reading the book so stressful. You never feel like you’re given answers which adds to an uneasy feeling that’s quite realistic.
4 BETTER: THERE IS MORE DIVERSITY
Issues of race and sexual orientation aren’t addressed much in the book. While Moira is a queer character in the book, we don’t get to learn all that much about her backstory, and her story ends when she is stays trapped as a sex slave for the Commanders. In the Hulu series, more storylines address LGBT characters, especially Emily’s story. Moira is a black, queer woman in the series, and she gets to escape Gilead and have a more complex story than she ever does in the book.
3 WORSE: OFFRED’S INTERNAL THOUGHTS ARE MISSING
One of the most striking and effective aspects of the book is getting to read the story through Offred’s narration. Of course, this isn’t very sensible to use as a storytelling method in a television series, but there is something about Offred’s thoughts that makes the series feel a little lacking. We are able to get a truer sense of the horror and dread that Offred feels and experience the events along with her in the book.
2 BETTER: THE SHOW GIVES US A BROADER VIEW OF EVENTS
The Handmaid’s Tale book really is a more focused story about Offred’s experiences in Gilead. We learn the things that she learns about the outside world and what is going on, but we don’t know much or have clear answers because she doesn't either. The TV show allows us to see much the bigger picture. We see the immigrants from Gilead, such as Luke, in Canada and learn more about the government of Gilead. While the narrow focus was effective in the novel, the broader approach of the series is fascinating.
1 1.WORSE: THE SHOW CAN BE TOO GRAPHIC
The novel definitely doesn’t mince words about the horrible things that are happening in Gilead and that have happened to Offred, but these details aren’t as frequent as they are in the TV show. Plus, seeing something on screen is a little different than visualizing it in your mind’s eye. At times, the series can feel a little too exploitative when it continues to show sexual assault and torture. There’s a fine line to walk between telling the story and showing the cruel world of Gilead and veering too far into being overly graphic.